Northern Lights – Episode 30

“Maggie, your brother’s agreed to work on the Bell Rock! Maybe you can talk sense into him, for I can’t.”

Alec came into the kitchen carrying the full kitbag. He found his path blocked by the two women.

Maggie had considered herself head of the family in age and stature, but Alec was now a head taller and she had to look up to him. It was disconcerting.

“You said you’d finish your apprenticeship ashore in the work yard. There was no mention of working on the rock.”

“There’s a rumour the press gang’s coming, Maggie.”

“A rumour, so ye panicked!”

He flushed at the scorn.

“No! In fact, I feel cowardly working ashore. Father would want me to help build the light, besides.

“The ship sails today wi’ Mr Stevenson and upward o’ twenty workmen to begin preparatory work, and a berth’s been found for me aboard.”

“He’s signed on for a month without shore leave, Maggie, working day and night when tides allow, even on the Sabbath!” Lilias added, wringing her hands.

Brother and sister looked at one another. Maggie crossed to the dresser and opened the drawer where the family Bible was kept.

She brought out a small book with red leather covers and handed it to her brother.

“Our mother’s prayer book, Alec. She’d want you to have it aboard ship when the weather’s wild.”

He took the little book reverently and tucked it carefully in a pocket.

He hardly dared speak lest he broke down and cried, so he hugged his sister and then his grandmother, mumbled a few words of farewell and left, the kitbag slung over a shoulder.

The two women watched him stride off towards the harbour.

“That was a good thought, Maggie,” Lilias ventured, still wary of a granddaughter who kept her at arm’s length.

Maggie shrugged.

“I knew he wouldna change his mind. He’s stubborn, like me. But he’ll take good care of Mama’s prayer book and maybe take better care o’ himsel’.”

*  *  *  *

Next day, 10 men arrived and took possession of the lodgings. They were a mixed crew of stoneworkers from a granite quarry in west Aberdeen, and Lilias and Maggie stood by the bothy door to receive them.

Lilias took stock of their lodgers. They were mostly older men, attracted to work in the Arbroath yard by better rates of pay, but forced to leave families behind in Aberdeen.

There were murmurs of appreciation when the men viewed the standard of their quarters.

One of the older men, called Torquil Adamson, voiced general approval in the soothing charm of an Aberdeen accent, soft as butter.

“Well, Mistress Spink, they say it’s hard to please all parties but ye’ll no’ find dissenters here.”

“Then see you keep the place the way ye find it, Mr Adamson,” Lilias warned.

“So we shall, ma’am.”

But there was a roguish twinkle in his eyes.

Lilias turned her attention to the others. They were strong men, hands roughened and toughened by constant contact with undressed stone.

The youngest, Noah Taggart, was not much more than twenty-one, she reckoned. He was sandy-haired and and his blue eyes brightened when alighting upon Maggie, whose cheeks, Lilias noted grimly, grew pink.

This morning Maggie’s hands were folded modestly upon an apron covering a dark blue dress. Tendrils of dark hair escaped from beneath a muslin close cap.

The older men showed fatherly interest in a young lass who no doubt reminded them of daughters left behind in Aberdeen. Others behaved to Maggie like older brothers.

Then there was Noah, whose blue eyes had sent a disturbing tingle through her whole body.

Maggie listened to the men’s cheerful banter as they settled into the new quarters and it gave her a bittersweet moment, as if her father and his crew were miraculously restored to the house.

She smiled wistfully. Noah Taggart watched, believed she smiled for him, and was encouraged.

The stoneworkers left for the work yard shortly after arrival and peace descended upon the house for the rest of the day.

Lilias’s thoughts turned to Alex upon the rock. Supper for herself and the girls would be a gloomy affair.

“Keep an eye on the loaves in the bread oven, Maggie. The boats are in and I’m off tae market.”

Lilias set off with a basket on her arm, enjoying the August sunshine. She loitered nostalgically by the Boatie’s empty berth.

Daft to mourn the loss, but the boat had been so much part of her Auchmithie days its absence left an ache.

“Ahoy, Mistress Spink!”

Startled, she looked towards the harbour mouth. There was the Boatie, loaded to the gunwales with fishing gear, the old man Mungo McDougal resting on the oars.

He wore oilskins topped by a faded blue bonnet, a relic of Dundee’s famed Bonnetmakers’ guild.

“You were right, ma’am. One can row the Boatie just as easy as two!” He raised the ancient bonnet to her before pulling strongly on the oars, heading outwards.

Lilias watched him disappear beyond the harbour wall and went on her way chuckling.

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!